Have you ever heard thunder during a snowstorm? Well, it seems more and more people are having this experience, at least in North America and the UK.
Some trends and patterns appear to be emerging, and if these keep up, a lot more of us might be hearing it as well.
After the round of storms in the northeastern U.S. at the end of January 2011, there was a flood of press coverage about something called
thundersnow. This peaked my interest, but I gave it no further thought until last night when I started hearing weather reports on TV and the
radio telling people to actually expect thundersnow during the enormous storm that's currently in progress here in North America.
As you probably already know, this is the storm they're calling the Groundhog Day Storm or The Super Storm. It's predicted to last for days, cover
two-thirds of the U.S, and affect 160 million people. For more information, see the ATS threads
Anyway, when I heard the reports, it made me think, "Hmm...they're actually predicting this now? How weird." Before this, my understanding had been
that there was no way to predict them. To attempt to clarify things for myself, I've just spent some time reading, watching videos, and making
a few calls about thundersnow and thought it might be nice to share with you what I've learned so far. Correct me where I've messed up. This isn't
super technical, and I'm not a meteorologist, but here you go...
What is thundersnow?
It's pretty much exactly what it sounds like—a thunderstorm combined with a snowstorm.
Thundersnow, also known as a winter thunderstorm or a thunder snowstorm, is a rare kind of thunderstorm with snow falling as
the primary precipitation instead of rain. It typically falls in regions of strong upward motion within the cold sector of an extratropical cyclone,
where the precipitation consists pellets rather than snow.
There are usually four forms of thundersnow:
A normal thunderstorm on the leading edge of a cold front or warm front that can either form in a winter environment or one that runs into cool air
and where the precipitation takes the form of snow.
A heavy synoptic snowstorm in the comma head of an extratropical cyclone that sustains strong vertical mixing which allows for favorable conditions
for lightning and thunder to occur.
A lake effect or ocean effect thunderstorm which is produced by cold air passing over relatively warm water; this effect commonly produces snow
squalls over the Great Lakes.
A cold front containing extremely cold air aloft, steepening lapse rates and causing strong vertical movement which allows for favorable conditions
for lightning and thunder to occur.
One unique aspect of thundersnow is that the snowfall acts as an acoustic suppressor of the thunder. The thunder from a typical thunderstorm can be
heard many miles away, while the thunder from thundersnow can usually only be heard within a two to three mile radius from the lightning. In the
United States, March is their peak month of formation, and on average, only 6.3 events are reported per year.
Note: There is surprisingly little other information out there, say on the weather or news sites, which surprised me. What
appears appears to all be either from the same sources used here, all of which are circa 2006.
So that's what thundersnow is. Pretty simple.
How long has thundersnow been happening?
From the Chicago Tribune, circa 2000...
Thundersnow: A colloquial term that first came into use in the 1970s for any thunderstorm with snow; that is, snow accompanied by lightning and
thunder. When thunderstorms produce snow in the winter, the rate of snow accumulation is often extreme: 3 to 6 inches per hour.
Note the reference to the 1970s. Chicago typically might experience the rare lake effects thundersnow due to its proximity to the Great Lakes, so it
makes sense they would address this in the local paper.
The earliest online mention of a thundersnow event appears to be this article about Pittsfield, MA, in 1951.
The 1960s and 1970s yielded no results.
The 1980s and the 1990s showed a slight increase in the number of references to thundersnow. Here are a few of those...
A report from a NOAA site circa 1999 said, "While it is difficult to forecast thundersnow, the development of thunderstorms is easily detected by
modern meteorological tools such as the WSR-88D Doppler Weather Radar and high resolution satellite imagery."
Of note here is the part about thundersnow being difficult to forecast. This poses a question or two. Has technology improved since 1999 making it
easier to forecast thundersnow now? If so, cool. If not, why are they attempting to?
So this sampling of information shows us that thundersnow has been with us for a while. Remember, though, this is by no means a thorough or scientific
sampling. The majority of research for this article was done online, so information predating the internet and recorded using other media is not
represented here. How much of that there is is anyone's guess. However, far more research must be done before any hard conclusions can be drawn.
That being said, however, it remarkable that there doesn't appear to be much trend data available, when perhaps there should be, particularly from .
In addition, not many of the weather sites have much, if any, information about thundersnow. Who knows. This could be an anomaly we've been
experiencing over the past five or six years. Maybe this is a passing thing and we don't need to worry about it all that much. However, to be on the
safe side, lets just say it's too soon to tell.
As we move along the timeline into the 2000s, the amount of information about thundersnow begins to pick up significantly. Most of the information up
to this point has been boilerplate in its descriptions of thundersnow, using pretty much the standard definition that appeared in the Chicago Tribune.
things begin to change now.
On 30 December 2000, a significant snowstorm formed off the mid-Atlantic Coast, and tracked into the northeastern U.S. Careful evaluation of
satellite, radar, upper air and lightning data provided six to twelve hours of lead time for forecasting thundersnow in the northeastern U.S., where
over two feet of snow fell locally. Some locations received two distinct periods of thundersnow.
This report steps through how the thundersnow formed, what the conditions and air currents were, and contains some interesting radar and vapor-channel
Despite the spotty record on the storms, ancient texts prove people have been witnessing them for centuries. Descriptions of the events date to at
least as early as the 19th century in Western literature, says Schultz. And Chinese texts dating to 1099 A.D. reveal that Chinese warriors believed
the storms were precursors to an enemy attack.
Interesting—sounds like China and 1099 AD was the earliest reference they could find to thundersnow. There are likely even earlier occurrences of
this phenomenon, but they just aren't documented. More from this same article....
David Schultz is one of the few U.S. meteorologists to have investigated the storms and now another researcher, Patrick Market of the University
of Missouri in Columbia, hopes to learn more. Market recently received a $460,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to find out how often the
storms occur and why.
Okay. Very little known about this phenomenon, but some research is starting up. Why? Have there been increases in occurrences? Good question, but
probably beyond the scope of this thread. At least for now. Note the name Patrick
Market. Market appears as a common thread through virtually every article about thundersnow, and here, he is in 2003 getting his first research
Moving along the timeline, this NOAA site, reporting on a storm in Indiana in December of 2007, says, "Thunder snow is a rare winter time phenomena,
but when it does occur, snowfall rates of 2 to 4 inches per hour generally hour generally occur due to the convective nature of the event."
[December 16, 2007] (Convection is explained
here.) In this particular case, it sounds like a lake effects thundersnow, still
rare typically occurring around the Great Lakes in North America.
Jumping over from Indiana and still following the timeline, here's a video of some thundersnow in Massachusetts in 2007...
It seems, too, that thundersnow is increasing year by year as evidenced from various events within a week of this article writing. Americans may
have to consider the idea of this being an annual winter event in any part
Becoming "normal?" Um okay. The article also mentions that thundersnow lighting is just as dangerous as thunderstorm lightning. This article also
mentions what many others do, the muting effect the snow has on the sound of the thunder.
From the same year, 2008, a Weather Channel video...
And finally, from 2009, a video from the Weather Channel. His reaction here is just funny, and no article on thundersnow would be complete without
So, to recap, while not an entirely new, thundersnow appears to have both sparked some interest in the early to mid-2000s, and after that, it appears
they became more prevalent—or at the very least, more reported.
For this next step, some ATS research on thundersnow, thunder snow, and thunder and snow.
Many, though not all, of these reports seem to be related to lake effects thundersnow. The information discussed here and in the timeline so far
appears to support what one report stated: "There are about are about half a dozen reported thundersnow events in the United States each year,
typically around the Great Lakes and the Rocky Mountains."
Souce January 26, 2011
So that's what seems to be out there on ATS. (Until now )
What's in the news about thundersnow?
To continue the discussion, here are some more recent news stories and article from the past year or so.
Thunder, Lightning and... Snow This article from Scientific
American from December 2010 speaks about David Market's ongoing research, and also contains this interesting factoid...
Thunder and lightning during a snowstorm is different from a run-of-the-mill snowstorm; it is extremely rare—fewer than 1 percent of observed
snowstorms unleash thundersnow, according to a 1971 NSW study. But recorded observations of the phenomenon date back to 250 B.C., say ancient Chinese
records translated in 1980 by atmospheric scientist Pao-Kuan Wang, now of the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
It appears that 250 BC is now the earliest reference to thundersnow on record (again from China). Note too this statement...
By the time the lightning flashes during a thundersnow-storm, it is often already too late to prepare local residents for the whiteout on the way.
"If we're talking about the observation of thundersnow," Market says, "the predictive value is on the order of minutes to hours."
This seems to say again (12-13 years later than the NOAA article from 1999) that predicting thundersnow is not possible, which again might makes a
person wonder why then they've been predicting thundersnow for the superstorm this week.
A side note here, based on limited knowledge, is that the second type of four types of thundersnow formations (heavy synoptic snowstorm in the comma
head) might be more predictable than the others. But that still would probably only give meteorologist the same kind of lead time they currently have
for thunderstorms and tornadoes.
Here's what the storm that produced the thundersnow at the end of January 2011 looked like...
Overall, judging by the amount of online hits for news stories and blog articles worldwide (in the hundreds of thousands), one might think the
thundersnow portion of these storms was a very significant event. But was it really? Things go viral so fast these days, it's hard to compare.
For another change of pace, Here's a recap from Jimmy Kimmel about these latest storms, with some scenes from New York and other cities in the
It should be noted that these storms were typical of the occasional random lighting and claps of thunder reported in the past. These thundersnow
events were sustained, hours-long, events accompanied by record-breaking snow accumulations in very short periods of time. Note too that these events
were in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, again, just as was reported in a couple of the ATS threads from early 2010. Same area. Similar
Also, in this same geographic area was this storm in 2006. This is from Dr. Jeff Masters' blog at WeatherBug.com...
What appeared to be a rather ordinary Nor'easter on the computer model forecasts Saturday, intensified dramatically on Sunday as the center moved
out over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. For reasons we don't understand very well, the blizzard formed an intense band of thunderstorms with
snowfall rates of 2 to 4 inches per hour that swept across New York City and much of southern New England. Eleven inches of snow fell in three hours
at Central Park between 7am and 10am on Sunday, the kind of "snowburst" one seldom sees except in lake-effect storms in the lee of the Great Lakes.
New York City reported lightning and thunder for six hours during the height of the blizzard. Check out this 3-hour radar animation from the New York
City radar Sunday morning. You can see a narrow band of extremely heavy snow that stretches from northern New Jersey through New York City and
northeastward to Hartford Connecticut. This band has echo intensities of 40 dBZ, which are common in warm-season thunderstorms, but rarely observed in
winter storms. [Source]
Aside from the lightning, thunder, and snow, another characteristic of a thundersnow event keeps cropping up-rapid snowfall with high accumulations in
a short amount of time. This is something we have certainly been experiencing in North America this winter. Here in Atlanta, Georgia, we had 5 inches
fall in 50 minutes a few weeks ago (no thunder that time, but still). Bet many of you reading hear can attest to this too.
After looking at all this, it might seem that a pattern is beginning to develop, year-to-year. The northeastern seaboard (from Massachusetts to
Washington, DC) has experienced thundersnow events for what appears to be four or five out of the last six years. Could these storms be a result of
ocean effects? Possibly. Is the ocean warming up? Possibly.
Heated water is one of the conditions conducive to thundersnow-warmer water and colder air plus certain movement in our atmospheric streams and
currents equals thundersnow. Is anyone sure? It doesn't seem so. Regardless, this 1.) does appear to be a new weather phenomenon for this region, and
2.) there does seem to be an increase in frequency. It's too soon to tell for sure but is definitely something to keep an eye on, particularly during
this week's superstorm, and for the rest of 2011.
The final video is also related to most recent events. It's from Russian Television (RT). The commentator starts talking about thundersnow; goes off
on a rant about global warming, politics, and infrastructure; and then comes back to thundersnow again. The overall disorganization and tone of the
piece left me scratching my head.
Where is thundersnow happening?
Here are some places thundersnow has occurred in the past half century or so. This is compiled mostly from the information cited and used to research
Feb 1951 Pittsfield, MA, USA
Jan 1982 St. Louis, MO, USA
Mar 1993 Atlanta, GA, USA
Nov 2000 Sierra Nevada Mountain, Nevada, USA
Jun 2001 Central Victorian, Australia
Dec 2005 Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Jan 2006 Chester County Pennsylvania, USA
Feb 2006 Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Feb 2006 Michigan, USA
Feb 2006 New York, NY, USA
Mar 2006 Aberdeen, Scotland
Oct 2006 Buffalo, NY, USA
Dec 2006 Columbia, Missouri, USA Thundersnow
Mar 2007 Moose Jaw, SK, Canada
Dec 2007 Montreal, QC, Canada
Dec 2007 Topeka, KS, USA
Dec 2007 Montreal, QC, Canada
Feb 2008 Denver, Colorado, USA
Feb 2008 Peoria, Illinois, USA
Dec 2008 Seattle/Bellevue/Kirkland, Washington, USA
Feb 2009 Kent, England
Mar 2009 Atlanta, GA, USA
Dec 2009 New Mexico, USA
Feb 2010 Washington, DC, USA
Jan 2011 Philadelphia, PA, USA
Jan 2011 New York, NY, USA
Jan 2011 Washington, DC, USA
Jan 2011 Huntsville, AL, USA
Why aren't there more international occurrences?
I saw virtually no international reports, examples, or articles during the quick searches I did focusing on over 40 countries (China, India, France,
Australia, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Iran, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, Ukraine, Norway, and so on).
Maybe thundersnow is only being reported locally in the local language and the search engines aren't finding the articles. The other possibilities are
that thundersnow is happening but is not being reported, or that thundersnow simply isn't happening anywhere else at all. (Unlikely.)
If you have links to any stories or weather reports regarding thundersnow activity in your region or country, please posting them here or U2U me.
So what's the conspiracy angle?
As exciting as all this has been, it's nothing without a good conspiracy theory or two. The first thing just about everyone thinks of if a subject has
anything at all to do with weather is, of course, HAARP. It's always at the back of our minds. There have been reports of fish dying and minor
earthshakes recently in the NJ area, and now they're being heavily affected by thundersnow. Just something to think about and tuck away to maybe use
another day, if more information comes to light.
This last story is also recent news, but it has a few twists.
A lightning flash 50 miles long, thundersnow, and gravity waves rippling through the air causing some of the heaviest snowfall in North Alabama
Those were surprise findings researchers from NASA and the University of Alabama in Huntsville recorded when they ventured out into this month's
Gravity waves? Eleven gravity waves, to be exact, which rippled across Huntsville and Madison County that night. These waves,they say, typically
escalate tornadoes and ripen the atmosphere for thunderstorms. However, "What causes these waves isn't well studied or understood," says this article,
which more findings from the same storm, from a study being conducted by NASA and USHuntsville:
So what's going on with gravity waves and snow and leaves and trees in Huntsville? I don't know. I do know Huntsville happens to be the site of a lot
of the International Space Station work. Reading all these articles makes a person wonder 1.) why NASA is involved in this research and 2.) if this
might possibly have anything to do with the GPS testing that went on recently. (See this ATS
This concludes the conspiracy portion of this broadcast. Tin foil hats off.
Could you please wrap it up?
Okay. To wrap it up, from what we've gathered here in this brief time, thundersnow appears to be a known, rare weather phenomena we don't know much
about. It started becoming more of a mainstream topic at some point around 2000. Since about the mid-2000s, the number of occurrences seem to be
increasing in North America; however, there is no hard evidence. While not limited to the northeastern seaboard of the U.S., it does appear in recent
years to be focused there, going back as far as 2005.
Occurrences in other areas of North America, such as Chicago, Montreal, and Minneapolis experience thundersnow, but it is most often linked to lake
effects. However, these also appear to be increasing in frequency.
Occurrences in states like Texas, Georgia, Alabama, New Mexico, and Arizona, which are in the more temperate zones, are most typically explained by
clashing cold and warm fronts of greater differences in temperatures than one might expect in, say, the northeastern U.S.
Is this phenomenon called the thunderstorm another indication that extreme weather is becoming more commonplace all over the earth? It seems very
possible, but 1.) it's really too soon to tell and 2.) we need more data to be able to conduct a complete analysis. One thing is certain. Thundersnow
events are definitely on the rise. It's not one of those anecdotal, "I don't remember the weather/sky being this way when I was a kid" situations.
Something's changing. Until we determine what's causing them, we can't answer any questions about whether this is a temporary, cyclical situation or
it is something we should expect from now on.
Meteorologists are working on it, trying to predict thundersnow events days ahead of time, even though what we've seen here would suggest there is no
way to do so. Maybe they're just hyper-aware and vigilant due to recent events.
Anyway, it's certainly somethng to watch and see, especially during this week of The Super Storm. Keep your eyes and ears open, and let me know here
if you experience any thundersnow in your area of the world.
P.S. I've experienced thundersnow but once (in March of 1993). To be honest, I don't remember it being that bad or lasting very long. I thought it
was common here in Atlanta because of the warm climate. Before moving here 20 years ago. I spent about 25 years in New Jersey and New York, where
there was plenty of snow but never any thundersnow. Just my experience.
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You put all this together very quickly! And effectively! If I had the ability to applause, I certainly would.
Very interesting! We did experience it last night here in Eastern Oklahoma. It's not the first time I've heard it so I didn't think anything about
it. After reading your post I am now more intrigued by it. lol I suppose storms are just common in Oklahoma so I never really pay much attention to
them. Snow or otherwise.
I've never even heard of "thundersnow" before. It doesn't surprise me though, with all the erratic shifts in weather patterns. Weather men can
hardly predict storms within any reasonable accuracy anymore. This is because they predict weather by comparing to their charts of outcomes in similar
circumstances in the past, and so with these global weather pattern changes their method is now faulty. The earth of course does go through changes,
so this may not be the result of human interference (not that we don’t harm the planet in other ways.)
I will admit that I haven't read your entire OP yet, but I will come back and read it a little later when i have more time.I just wanted to say good
job on doing your homework. A+. You obviously have spent quite a bit of time researching this subject to put all of this together.
I live in southern Indiana, and as far as im aware, I have not heard any Thundersnow yet. I first heard about it on the news a few years ago. It is an
Thanks for taking the time to put all of this together and post it for us.
I often experienced thundersnow whenever there was a snowstorm in southeastern NC. It doesn't snow very much there but when it did, it often had a
lot of convection like a thunderstorm and there was often lightning and thunder. I remember because I used to play out in the snow when I was a
little kid. I was thinking it might not be safe to play in the snow with it lightning and thundering but I took my chances. It was snowing very
heavy during those times. I heard it just means there is a lot of convection in the storm (like a thunderstorm except it is coming out as snow at the
bottom of the storm).
One of the most amazing things I saw was when it rained over 3 inches in only about 15 minutes. On the news the meteorologist stated that was the
maximum rainfall possible in the Earth's atmosphere. I believe it was 3 to 4 inches of rain in only 15 minutes. It looked like a waterfall outside.
I've also seen a lot of other weird and unusual lightning even different colors. I've even been temporarily blinded by lightning when I looked out
the window at the center of a supercell cluster of super tornadoes. It was calm where I was at but it seemed like three or 4 suns were constantly
shining on our house for a few minutes nonstop. I couldn't see any flashing anymore since it was nonstop. I looked outside and got blinded. My
vision came back.
Amazing thread. Really interesting to read through. I've never heard of Thundersnow, this is the first. The mystery surrounding the phenomena is
intriguing, most especially the noted lack of reports from around the world. One can presume many things from that detail alone, I prefer to believe
that mama nature still has a few surprises for us...
I observed on the weather channel on tv earlier this evening a lot of lightning symbols on the radar image across Illinois as the snow was falling.
The lightning symbol of course represents the detection of lightning. Based on the radar image, thousands of people in Illinois had the chance to
experience thunder snow this evening. Of course if they were inside, they probably did not see or hear it. My experience is that the thunder is not
usually as loud as it gets in the summer time. In other words, it doesn't shake the walls of your house and wake the dead like it can during the
summer. I suppose if there was cloud to ground lightning it could. I'm not sure how common that is during a snowstorm.
Fantastic thread OP, you really put it together so well, and packed full of great nuggets of information, thank you for taking the time & sharing!
I was born and raised in Buffalo NY, one of my favorite weather events is thundersnow! It's common in the Great Lake regions during heavy lake effect
This video was from December 2010 during a lake effect snow storm that stranded a bunch of motorists on the NYS thruway. At 1:31 of the video the
lightning flashes and bam, the thunder booms.
style="height: 390px; width: 640px"> "http://www.youtube.com/v/YrN0WEaTPf8?version=3" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"
allowfullscreen="true" allowScriptAccess="always" width="640" height="390">
Sorry everyone. I've tried to edit my last post, but it won't let me get past the preview part, not sure if that's another limitation I have on my
accent as I am a newb. Needless to say Lucidity, thank you for your U2U, I of course busted out a lengthy reply, only to hit send and see it disappear
as I'm still not to my quota.
To stay on topic, and use my error to my advantage, here again, fingers crossed it works, thanks again Lucidity
How often do you get them? Is it a regular occurrence? As I was shifting through the tons of data, the distinct impression I got was that thundersnow
is common near the Great Lakes, maybe so common that most people don't even think about it? If you recall, there are four potential formations for
thunderstorms, and lake effects appears to be the most common. I think part of the issue with the thundersnow happening in places where it normally
would not is that they're not sure which of the other three it is. Might be ocean effect along the seaboard, but it might be one of the other three as
I'm still puzzled about that gravity wave stuff that's happening in Huntsville. "We don't know what they do..." or whatever it is they said is sort of
an odd answer.l
Your words were as good as, EagleTalonz. I understand what you're saying about being used to storms. Thunder is so common here year round too that it
barely phases us unless the windows rattle, which they did tonight.
Thanks, Neurolanis. Glad you enjoyed it. To be honest, I never heard the word thundersnow before yesterday (well Monday night). That's what happens
when you work too much The word is everywhere since those storms at the end of January. Even people in India are blogging about it.
That actually sounds like an unusual amount of lightning for thundersnow, but most of the articles didn't really focus on lighting strikes. The one
that was an online pdf with the radar photos had a chart in there for lightning strikes. I believe it helps them figure out which of the four forms it
is. And yes, the snow typically muffles the sound of thunder a lot, The time we had it here it was almost eerie for a while...like an echo chamber.
Haha, no problem, Portlandia. It took me 6 years to figure out how to post Thanks for the video and the very kind words. Wow that was really
loud thunder. I think what those people are doing for each other is terrific. Can't beat the human spirit
Thanks for your reply. You're probably right...people just say, oh thunder. What intrigued me was that one article warning of the dangers? In there it
mentioned that these storms can often turn pellets (their name) or to hail that can last a long time and do a lot of damage, which is actually
happening in the southwestern U.S. and, I believe, Mexico? if that pattern develops, we could be in a world of hurt with crops and more. It does seem
like the New England region has it's fair share of thundasnow, relatively speaking. This storm is pretty bad, but of course the media has to hype it
up. That's what they do best. I enjoyed learning about this phenomenon.
edit on 2/2/2011 by ~Lucidity because: (no reason given)
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